What Are the Risks at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant?

It is also important to note that drying out of the ponds will not cause a nuclear reaction or explosion to occur,” said Mark Foreman, associate professor of nuclear chemistry at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, in a statement.

report from the Ukrainian state regulator in 2011 stress-tested different scenarios that could lead to failure. It found that if electricity were cut, the loss of the pool water cooling function would raise temperatures — but not by enough to cause an accident.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the IAEA confirmed the heat load of the spent fuel storage pool and the volume of cooling water was enough to effectively remove heat without the need for electricity.

The spent fuel there is so old that evaporation will not likely be the problem,” said Jan Haverkamp, a nuclear expert at environmental campaign group Greenpeace. Still, he added, “an explosion hitting the pool could cause overheating.”

The loss of electricity could also hit the ventilation system and make it harder to manage radioactive dust.

It may become much harder for workers to enter some parts of the site without full protective clothing,” said Foreman. “They may also have greater difficulty in changing in and out of their protective clothing. Some parts of the site might become off limits to the workers until the power is restored.”

Nuclear Safety
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to fully invade Ukraine in February has thrown the security of nuclear power into the spotlight.

If there is a nuclear accident the cause will not be a tsunami brought on by mother nature,” said Grossi on Monday, referring to the earthquake that flooded the reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011. “Instead, it will be the result of human failure to act when we knew we could.”

Chernobyl is a powerful symbol of nuclear catastrophe. In 1986, a sudden surge of power during a reactor test destroyed Unit 4 of the poorly designed nuclear power station, in what was then part of the Soviet Union. The fire that followed released clouds of radioactive material into the environment that led to authorities setting up an exclusion zone and evacuating hundreds of thousands of people. Dozens are thought to have died as a direct result of the disaster.

Radiation levels have since fallen. Some residents of the exclusion zone have returned to their homes and live in areas with levels that are above average but not fatal. Radiation unexpectedly spiked in February when Russian troops entered the area, possibly because of heavy vehicles raising a layer of topsoil and kicking dust up into the air.

The IAEA found the levels pose no danger to the public. But the unprecedented reality of war in a country operating nuclear power stations has raised the specter of nuclear catastrophe.

The Russian army shelled Europe’s largest nuclear power plant last week before taking over the site. Though there was no safety incident, it was the first time that military explosives have hit an operating nuclear facility.

We’ve entered something that that the industry was in complete denial of,” said Haverkamp. “Nuclear power is just not an energy source that belongs in a war situation.”

Ajit Niranjan is Environment and Globalization reporter at DW.This article as edited by Jennifer Collins, and  is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).